Today on Holden’s Obsession with the Gaggle

From Holden:

I almost feel sorry for Little Scottie today as the entire WH press corps turns today’s gaggle into a Swift Boat Liars tag-team match [sorry about the length]:

Q On the Swift Boat ad, Kerry is saying that the President is relying on front groups to challenge Kerry’s war record. Why won’t the President denounce this particular ad? McCain asked the President to do so, and every day that you don’t condemn it, it just leaves the door open for the issue to continue.

MR. McCLELLAN: [We have called on Senator Kerry to join us in calling for an end to all the unregulated soft money activity that is going on in this campaign. *buzz – whir – click* We have called on Senator Kerry to join us in calling for an end to all the unregulated soft money activity that is going on in this campaign.]

Q But don’t you think you could put this matter to rest if you would just condemn this particular ad? That’s what Kerry is asking.

MR. McCLELLAN: [Same as above.]

Q There are the ads, and then there’s the charge within the ads. Last week at one of the “Ask President Bush” events, a voter stood up and repeated the charge that Senator Kerry had self-inflicted wounds in Vietnam. The President didn’t say anything. What does the President think about the charge?

MR. McCLELLAN: [Same as above.]

Q Well, the charge, though, has been made not just in advertisements, but it has now been made directly to the President.

MR. McCLELLAN: And there have been a lot of false, negative charges made against the President by these shadowy groups. So if he would join us, we could get rid of all of this unregulated soft money activity.

Q Let me ask it this way: The President has said and believes that John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam, right?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, he’s made that very clear. We’ve made it very clear that we will not make his — will never raise questions about his service. We haven’t, and we won’t.

Q This advertisement raises questions about his service, and in fact concludes that he served dishonorably. So the President thinks this ad is false, right?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the issue here is these unregulated soft money groups that exist. The campaign finance reforms were passed in order to get rid of this kind of activity. Yet there is a loophole in the law, and the FEC has refused to address it. We think that all of this activity should be stopped.

Q Could I follow on that? Because what Terry seems to be getting at, what’s clear from this event that Bush had last week —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let’s not be selective here. Let’s look at the overall activity that’s going on by all of these shadowy groups. I think we’re being a little selective right now. And Senator Kerry is being — is trying to have it all ways, yet again. He says one thing, while his campaign goes out there and does another thing.

Q Well, even given your belief that it’s selective, the President on the one hand will say —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, is it not? I mean, the President has been on the receiving end of —

Q I’m asking the questions right now. The point is that the President has let stand these charges, even made by a voter at one his events, as Terry says, doesn’t say a word about it when he quotes these charges, just lets it go. It seems like the President, while he has certainly called his service noble in the Vietnam War, is happy to let all the rest of the charges sort of fester.

MR. McCLELLAN: [Same as above.]

Q You just don’t want to get into the business of making a judgment about one ad, is your point.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that it’s important that we recognize that there is a loop hole that groups are exploiting. And we should end all this activity. That was one of the purposes of the campaign finance reform.

Q Do you and the President agree that John Kerry served dishonorably in Vietnam?

MR. McCLELLAN: We’ve already said that. The President has already said that, we’ve already said that, we’ve made that clear, that — the President said that he served nobly.

Q Do you believe it’s fair game for allies of the President to be charging that John Kerry served dishonrably?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, ultimately in any campaign the voters are going to make the ultimate decision on all the issues. But this goes to the issue of shadowy groups that are funded by unregulated soft money. That’s what this issue is about.

Q By not condemning this ad, you are leaving the impression that you support the contention that John Kerry served dishonorably.

MR. McCLELLAN: [Same as above.]

Q Forget about the ads. Why won’t you disassociate yourself from the charge that John Kerry served dishonorably in Vietnam?

MR. McCLELLAN: We’ve never questioned his service, and we never will. So I think we’ve made that very clear.

Q So he earned those medals?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, we’re not going to question his service. We have not, and we will not.

Mark.